Court, legal briefing to address efforts to force light rail vote

By Erik Hidle, Columbian staff writer

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Residents of Clark County may gain clarity over the potential for a citizen vote on the Columbia River Crossing come Wednesday afternoon.

The issue of holding a vote on the project will be addressed on two fronts this week — in a Cowlitz County courtroom, and also as part of a legal briefing to Clark County commissioners.

A group of 75 plaintiffs will challenge a county ruling on ballot signatures collected to grant Vancouver residents a vote on the light rail component of the CRC.

The group collected signatures over a span of two years, but fell short by 32 names.

But the petition could live on if a state law is overturned by the Cowlitz County court. Current state law states that on municipal petitions, "signatures, including the original, of any person who has signed a petition two or more times shall be stricken."

The petition includes 44 people whose names were removed from the count for duplicate signing.

Clark County and Clark County Auditor Greg Kimsey are named as defendants in the suit, but it appears Kimsey won't put up a fight beyond saying his office followed state law.

"I am very pleased that someone has finally taken action to challenge this state law," Kimsey said last week. "This is a bad law, and I'm glad to see it being challenged."

If the challenge is successful, the Vancouver City Council will then ask voters to decide on a proposed ordinance prohibiting city resources from being used to extend TriMet's MAX line from Portland to Vancouver as part of the CRC. The vote would be open only to residents of the city.

The case will be heard at 1:30 p.m. Wednesday at the Hall of Justice in Kelso.

As the legal proceedings take place, Clark County commissioners will receive a legal briefing from Bronson Potter, the county's chief civil deputy prosecutor, on whether they can send a vote regarding light rail to the entire county. The briefing is scheduled for 1:30 p.m. at the county's Public Service Center building.

While there is a process for commissioners to place a matter on the ballot, talk of a CRC-related vote has been turned away in the past. In 2011 and 2010, county attorneys came to the conclusion that commissioners lack the authority to place a vote on the ballot regarding the project because it doesn't fall under their governing authority.

But last week, Commissioners David Madore and Tom Mielke made it clear they believe the county has some say in the project by voting to approve a resolution officially opposing the CRC. Commissioner Steve Stuart was absent from the meeting due to illness.

Madore, a well-known critic of the CRC for its light rail and tolling components, has said he hopes the county vote will be binding as opposed to a nonbinding advisory vote. He says the bottom line is to give county residents, "the most meaningful vote possible on this project."


Erik Hidle: 360-735-4542; http://twitter.com/col_clarkgov; erik.hidle@columbian.com.